Equity in the twenty-first century
Strachan, Glenda, Burgess, John, & French, Erica L. (2011) Equity in the twenty-first century. In Townsend, Keith J. & Wilkinson, Adrian (Eds.) Research Handbook on the Future of Work and Employment Relations. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, pp. 345-369.
Issues of equity and inequity have always been part of employment relations
and are a fundamental part of the industrial landscape. For example,
in most countries in the nineteenth century and a large part of the twentieth
century women and members of ethnic groups (often a minority in
the workforce) were barred from certain occupations, industries or work
locations, and received less pay than the dominant male ethnic group for
the same work. In recent decades attention has been focused on issues of
equity between groups, predominantly women and different ethnic groups
in the workforce. This has been embodied in industrial legislation, for
example in equal pay for women and men, and frequently in specific equity
legislation. In this way a whole new area of law and associated workplace
practice has developed in many countries.
Historically, employment relations and industrial relations research has
not examined employment issues disaggregated by gender or ethnic group.
Born out of concern with conflict and regulation at the workplace, studies
tended to concentrate on white, male, unionized workers in manufacturing
and heavy industry (Ackers, 2002, p. 4). The influential systems model
crafted by Dunlop (1958) gave rise to
The discipline’s preoccupation with the ‘problem of order’ [which] ensures the
invisibility of women, not only because women have generally been less successful
in mobilizing around their own needs and discontents, but more profoundly
because this approach identifies the employment relationship as the ultimate
source of power and conflict at work (Forrest, 1993, p. 410).
While ‘the system approach does not deliberately exclude gender . . .
by reproducing a very narrow research approach and understanding
of issues of relevance for the research, gender is in general excluded or
looked on as something of peripheral interest’ (Hansen, 2002, p. 198).
patterns of gender segregation in occupations and
industries, together with discriminatory access to work and social views
about women and ethnic groups in the paid workforce, mean that the employment experience of women and ethnic groups is frequently quite
different to that of men in the dominant ethnic group. Since the 1980s,
research into women and employment has figured in the employment relations
literature, but it is often relegated to a separate category in specific
articles or book chapters, with women implicitly or explicitly seen as the
atypical or exceptional worker (Hansen, 2002; Wajcman, 2000). The same
conclusion can be reached for other groups with different labour force patterns
and employment outcomes.
This chapter proposes that awareness of equity issues is central to
employment relations. Like industrial relations legislation and approaches,
each country will have a unique set of equity policies and legislation,
reflecting their history and culture. Yet while most books on employment
and industrial relations deal with issues of equity in a separate chapter
(most commonly on equity for women or more recently on ‘diversity’), the
reality in the workplace is that all types of legislation and policies which
impact on the wages and working conditions interact, and their impact
cannot be disentangled one from another.
When discussing equity in workplaces in the twenty-first
century we are
now faced with a plethora of different terms in English. Terms used include
discrimination, equity, equal opportunity, affirmative action and diversity
with all its variants (workplace diversity, managing diversity, and so on).
There is a lack of agreed definitions, particularly when the terms are used
outside of a legislative context. This ‘shifting linguistic terrain’ (Kennedy-Dubourdieu,
2006b, p. 3) varies from country to country and changes
over time even within the one country. There is frequently a division made
between equity and its related concepts and the range of expressions using
the term ‘diversity’ (Wilson and Iles, 1999; Thomas and Ely, 1996). These
present dilemmas for practitioners and researchers due to the amount and
range of ideas prevalent – and the breadth of issues that are covered when
we say ‘equity and diversity in employment’. To add to these dilemmas,
the literature on equity and diversity has become bifurcated: the literature
on workplace diversity/management diversity appears largely in the business
literature while that on equity in employment appears frequently in
legal and industrial relations journals.
Workplaces of the twenty-first
century differ from those of the nineteenth
and twentieth century not only in the way they deal with individual
and group differences but also in the way they interpret what are fair and
equitable outcomes for different individuals and groups. These variations
are the result of a range of social conditions, legislation and workplace
constraints that have influenced the development of employment equity
and the management of diversity. Attempts to achieve employment equity
have primarily been dealt with through legislative means, and in the last fifty years this legislation has included elements of anti-discrimination,
affirmative action, and equal employment opportunity in virtually all
OECD countries (Mor Barak, 2005, pp. 17–52). Established on human
rights and social justice principles, this legislation is based on the premise
that systemic discrimination has and/or continues to exist in the labour
force and particular groups of citizens have less advantageous employment
outcomes. It is based on group identity, and employment equity
programmes in general apply across all workplaces and are mandatory.
The more recent notions of diversity in the workplace are based on ideas
coming principally from the USA in the 1980s which have spread widely in
the Western world since the 1990s. Broadly speaking, diversity ideas focus
on individual differences either on their own or in concert with the idea of
group differences. The diversity literature is based on a business case: that
is diversity is profitable in a variety of ways for business, and generally
lacks a social justice or human rights justification (Burgess et al., 2009,
pp. 81–2). Managing diversity is represented at the organizational level as
a voluntary and local programme.
This chapter discusses some major models and theories for equity and
diversity. It begins by charting the history of ideas about equity in employment
and then briefly discusses what is meant by equality and equity. The
chapter then analyses the major debates about the ways in which equity
can be achieved. The more recent ideas about diversity are then discussed,
including the history of these ideas and the principles which guide this
concept. The following section discusses both major frameworks of equity
and diversity. The chapter then raises some ways in which insights from
the equity and diversity literature can inform employment relations.
Finally, the future of equity and diversity ideas is discussed.
Citation countsare sourced monthly fromand citation databases.
These databases contain citations from different subsets of available publications and different time periods and thus the citation count from each is usually different. Some works are not in either database and no count is displayed. Scopus includes citations from articles published in 1996 onwards, and Web of Science® generally from 1980 onwards.
Citations counts from theindexing service can be viewed at the linked Google Scholar™ search.
|Item Type:||Book Chapter|
|Keywords:||Equity, Employment Relations, Diversity, Industrial Relations|
|Subjects:||Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > COMMERCE MANAGEMENT TOURISM AND SERVICES (150000) > BUSINESS AND MANAGEMENT (150300) > Human Resources Management (150305)|
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > COMMERCE MANAGEMENT TOURISM AND SERVICES (150000) > BUSINESS AND MANAGEMENT (150300) > Industrial Relations (150306)
|Divisions:||Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School|
Current > Schools > School of Management
|Copyright Owner:||Copyright 2011 Edward Elgar|
|Deposited On:||19 Jul 2011 11:32|
|Last Modified:||19 Jul 2011 11:32|
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